Each Saturday, one of our four regular columnists will be taking turns to fill the weekend opinion slot here on Eurogamer. Today it's Jon "Log" Blyth. You can find out more about the columnists in this editor's blog.
I left the games industry in June. Since then, as I understand it from Twitter, every last person in the games industry has been exposed as corrupt. This puts me, entirely by accident, in the position of being the only person in the world that anyone can trust on the subject of video games. Which I'm assuming is why Eurogamer asked me to write this column.
If you've seen the flawless movie King Ralph, you'll recognise this plot, and will have already translated the most important story points into the current situation, so here's how it'll likely go. 1) EG editors decide they don't like my thrilling brand of fart-centric humour and off-piste body-popping contests, but realise they are bound by an unexpected contract to publish whatever I write. 2) Readers get 70 words into my first column and are already asking why the hell this s*** is being commissioned, causing me to slip into a fugue of melancholic self-doubt. 3) I fart a bullet away from a game journalist princess, making me a hero and making farts finally respectable. 4) Everyone body-pops at the Games Media Awards and agrees that I am the best King of England/games person ever.
It's the climax that this industry deserves.
It'd be too easy to use my position of unfettered power to sling mud. Instead, I'm going to establish the only good kind of government - a benevolent dictatorship - and fix all aspects of gaming, one by one. I'm going to polish this turd so hard you'll be able to see your face in it. By the time Eurogamer decide this was a stupid idea, you'll all be staring at your own faces, texture mapped onto a metaphorical turd. Will you like what we see? Well, that depends on your face. You can't blame me for THAT.
In my first column, I'm going to fix what it is that's been bugging the nuts off of me about all shooters.
It's not the guns. We've got guns all sorted out, now. Any game that doesn't get guns right is doing it on purpose to be silly. It's not the graphics: we've got entire technologies devoted to bloody dust. And the sound effects are great - did you know that a sound file on the first Homefront game is the sound engineer's dog, chewing some ice? That's the second best thing about that game, after Press X To Jump In A Mass Grave. We didn't realise it then, but that button prompt was the most effective and savage attack on the very concept of interactive media. Very few people have pressed X since.
It's the damned NPCs voices. Nothing brings the fundamental uniformity of shooting hundreds of things into stark focus, with more jarring speed than a repeated NPC bark. And nothing slashes through the paper-thin veneer of AI more effectively than a Far Cry 4 guard screaming "You killed my friend! I'm going to find you!" again and again, as he mans his outpost, increasingly alone. Nothing fatigues a perfectly good phrase like "Son of a taint!" more than Handsome Jack saying it three damn times in the first chapter.
This is what gets me antsy. This is the quickest way to break immersion, and it's easily fixed (See endnotes). An example: Ed Stern, of Splash Damage, said that the hardest thing about writing video games is thinking of a hundred ways to say "Grenade!"
Now, I'm paraphrasing him from memory there, so he almost certainly didn't say that. However, I'm going to report him as saying that, to make his words fit my point. Hey - I might not call myself a journalist, but I did pick up *some* tricks. But Ed, mate - mate, Ed. I wrote these brilliant alternatives in about ten minutes.
10 BRAND NEW WAYS FOR NPCs TO SAY "I'M THROWING A GRENADE"
"Chaps, I'm lobbing a bang-egg up yonder."
Pros: Full of British pep and vim, and the timeless whimsy of the word "egg" really takes your mind off a shard of shrapnel whirling in slow motion towards your face, and lodging in your iris.
"I hope that the grenade I've just this second thrown will go some way towards eliminating our common foe."
Pros: Gives enemy a sense of real human motive and teamwork. Perhaps you are the bad guy in their eyes! Makes you think. Hmm.
"Toad in the hole!"
Pros: Would suit a more light-hearted game starring a gun-toting sausage or frog.
Cons: Might be confusing if the player is not a sausage or a frog. You might need to rewrite the game so that the player is a sausage and/or a frog.
"What are those things that we throw? We've all got them. Come on, this is a really obvious soldier word. Steve? I know this is radio comms but I'm miming throwing one. What's that called? Look, guys, can we speed this up? I've got to throw it soon or it'll blow up."
Pros: Builds a sense of community in the opposing team, causing you to think twice before pulling the trigger, and imbuing the game with a sense of moral weight that would make Peter Molyneux blink in open admiration.
"Hello. I am a sexy AI implant you didn't know you had. The enemy has just thrown a grenade. Oh no I'm malfunctioning forever, goodbye human I watched you being brave and I really grew to love you"
Pros: Really emotional for players who don't want to process romantic relationships in a way that doesn't involve complete devotion and enforced servility. Instantly resolves itself in a way that plugs easily into any genre and plot
Cons: None whatsoever, it's brilliant
"I hope he doesn't throw that grenade back! Then I'D be the one blowing up!"
Pros: Seamless element of tutorial. This is so stylish I can hardly move my arms
Cons: Seriously can't see one here
"Enraged: thrown for explosive result. (7)"
Pros: Will be a hit with cryptic crossword enthusiasts
Cons: There's a time and a place for cryptic clues, and maybe this isn't it?
Pros: Shut your filthy mouth, this is a perfect time for cryptic clues
Cons: Whatever you say man
Maybe seven is enough. Yes. Seven is the perfect number.
Of course, I realise that more things happen in shooters than "throwing grenades". Which is why I created this spreadsheet of all the things that happen in video games, and hundreds of different ways to say each one. It's a work in progress, so by hundreds I mean six.
Truly, it'll come as a relief to all developers that my spreadsheet has finally nudged NPC barks into the same "mission complete" status as guns and graphics. That frees us up, finally, to focus on storytelling. Luckily, I'm on that too. My "tell, don't show" workshop will be focussed mainly on revealing complicated plot points through long and unskippable tracts of dialogue, illustrated by a camera slow-panning across still images.
In the meantime, if any developers want someone who can think of a hundred ways to say "I'm going over there now", I'll take the job. Running a pub is really hard work. I've made a terrible mistake. Please let me back in.
1. This isn't true. Here are three quicker ways to break immersion.
a. A guard says "Guys, the player character entered the range at which we begin to exist, and are required to follow our patrol routes."
b. A cow with glitching hooves begs you in a thick French accent to shoot it in the udder sac. "Jurst a leetle dum dum in mah meelky neeps," it implores, before leaning in for a kiss.
c. Looking down and noticing that you are sat on a nice sofa, and a neglected labradoodle is staring at you in case you're about to produce some food from a pocket it didn't know about.